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three cheers for browser compatibility testing February 27, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Lessons Learned, Technology Trouble.
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It's always funnier to use a LOLcat to tell people they're in the wrong.

It's always funnier to use a LOLcat to tell people they're in the wrong.

I am generally in charge of building the first (and second, and third, etc) version of all special webpages for my office’s website. However, I was recently not in the office, so my boss built a page for a feature we run every February — a Valentine’s Day guide sort of thing that is evergreen enough to live for an entire month. Unfortunately, due to site redesigns, he couldn’t just copy last year’s.

Apparently my boss has not coded a page in a while. Despite what I told him about Firefox 3.x’s new, stricter standards about commenting out code in HTML.

The way you comment out code is thus:

<!–– you can put your programming notes and other items in here ––>

IE is much more forgiving — you can put as many dashes and spaces as you want. Firefox does not permit that. If you put an extra dash, the code is commented out, but the comment does not end cleanly. At best it leaves a very large white space, and at worst it displays things you don’t want seen for whatever reason.

So I found this:

<!–––      begin content          –––>

Yeah. That’s not going to work in Firefox at all.

But here’s the thing: if my boss had done any cross-browser compatibility testing, he would’ve known it wasn’t working and at the very least he could’ve called me and said, “hey, this isn’t working. Why?”

Instead he just looked at the page in IE, decided it was good enough, and pushed it live.

No one complained; that’s why he never noticed it. But I recently took a couple of telecommute days and, when telecommuting, I tend to use Firefox more often because it renders faster*. Otherwise, no one important would have figured it out.

Anyway, I fixed it in about ten minutes.

There are plenty of apps available for browser compatibility testing. BrowserShots is one of the most popular and most comprehensive. I personally prefer doing it by hand, loading pages in the five major browsers to test them. But whatever your particular preference is, browser compatibility testing is a must these days. Gone are the days when Firefox and Safari users looked at an incompatible site, sighed, and worked around the problem.

Except where management is concerned. For them, it’s not a problem until it’s a problem, and until the Big Boss thinks it’s a problem, it’s not a problem. And since the Big Boss uses IE, well… you get the point.

* A lot of our work must be done in IE because a preponderance of our site visitors use IE — and so does the Big Boss, who matters more than any of them. Also, a lot of our internal-use-only corporate-supplied web apps only work in IE, despite what corporate says about them being compatible across all platforms. If that’s the case, I guess my boss is just acting as the corporate office acts.

wave your magic internet wand February 26, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Did I Hear That Right?.
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As I’ve mentioned in the past, I work for the web development department for a largish corporate entity. As such, things happen that are beyond my control.

A couple of years ago, we purchased access to a system that allows customers to sign up for text-message alerts when their servers go down. Sometime last month, my boss got an e-mail that the system was buggy and we should stop advertising it. Today, my boss told me this*. So I went in and looked at the application signup page.

Which is fairly prominent on our site.

In fact, last summer, I was tasked to build a graphical splash page that prominently incorporated it.

Now, we offer a second text messaging system (through another third-party provider) that allows clients for whom we build sites to distribute their content via text message. I said, “should I just change the iFrame URL to that other system?” He said yes, so I did.

Then I looked at the page.

Completely and utterly counterintuitive. And I said so. And I also said “would you like me to just put up a message that says we’ve had to temporarily discontinue the service while we make improvements?”

The response:

Just take the page down.

CC-licensed image by Flickr user ninjapoodles.

CC-licensed image by Flickr user ninjapoodles.

Yeah. I’ll just wave my magic internet wand and make a page, which is prominently featured in a huge splash page graphic, go away. Along with every other reference to it on our entire website. Because that’s how it works.

What bothers me most is that, before he hired me, it was my boss’s job to do all this stuff. He’s been a webmaster for quite some time and he knows that just taking a page down isn’t always as easy as renaming a file.

To be fair, he’s under a lot of stress. But still.

So I went with the counterintuitive approach. I’m pretty sure no one’s going to notice it anyway. After all, I redid our splash page last summer and it took until October for someone to drop by my desk and say, “hey… that splash page… where is it, exactly?”**

I figure I should get dinged about this in April. Plenty of time to redo the graphics on the splash page. Or just wave my magic internet wand and make them fix themselves.

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* He’s a bit behind on his “to do” list.

** Someone — at the corporate office, I think — had reloaded an old backup of our site like right after I uploaded the new stuff. Fortunately, I had backups.

job satisfaction February 25, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Economic Downturn, Pictures, Seen Elsewhere.
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Ahh, GraphJam… you always say what the rest of us are afraid to.

song chart memes
more music charts

Get Them Started Early February 24, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Guest Post, Seen Elsewhere, Technology Trouble.
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The following guest post was written by KF, a friend of the Speak. KF works in the jewelry industry, and is divorced with one child. He has been friends with That Guy since 2002.

***

My parents showed up at my house one day with a LittleTouch LeapPad, a game system for kids where you put the cartridge in the back and a book in the front, and it reads the book, plays music, and lets the kid play games. My daughter loved it when she was one, and now that she’s almost three she’s asking for me to put in the different books and even “reading” them to us when they’re not in.

I’m worried my parents will show up this summer with the Text and Learn, which is already being called “BlackBerry for Baby”. I gave her my old phone when it finally died, and she loves to play with it (don’t worry, I took out the battery), but does she really need a trainer smartphone? Mine chains me to my job every day. I don’t want her to have that kind of experience when she’s just in nursery school.

It does seem like kind of a cool toy. From CNet via MSNBC:

Virtual pal Scout is onboard to help; youngsters can exchange text messages with the little guy and check Scout’s planner for meeting conflicts […], and explore in a “pretend” browser mode. Other learning activities include letter matching, shape identification and QWERTY keyboard navigation.

I don’t know. I guess it’s important to get kids started on harmless copies of the real world, but this might be too much.

Text and Learn

Text and Learn

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using the right word or phrase February 23, 2009

Posted by That Guy in A Very Corporate Something, Experiences, Observations.
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A few years ago, Yoshi, a friend of The Speak, was working at Starbucks. I caught him on IM:

That Guy: what do you do, exactly?
Yoshi: Starbucks Barista
That Guy: tell me something — is it in the manual that you MUST say “venti mocha frappuccino” whenever someone orders a “large”? or do the people at the starbucks near my office do it out of spite?
Yoshi: Yes. If a customer uses the incorrect terminology, we have to say it the correct way when presenting their drinks. No, it’s not out of spite.
That Guy: thanks for clearing that up. I really had been wondering

CC-licensed photo by Flickr user Esparta.

CC-licensed photo by Flickr user Esparta.

This may have changed; the conversation is, as I said, a few years old.

But it brings up something that many employees find themselves dealing with on a regular basis: using the right word or phrase, because if you don’t, your boss is going to get ticked off.

When I was a bit younger, I worked at an educational assistance center (similar to Sylvan Learning Center). My specialty was with students who needed help with their writing. Our supervisor said that we weren’t “tutors”, we were “consultants”. How many high-school and college students think “consultant” when they think “help me with my English paper”? So we called ourselves “tutors” whenever the supervisor wasn’t in earshot. Except for this one blind spot, she was a great person to work for and I still hold her in very high regard. This was just something she refused to budge on.

What about now?

Sometimes it falls to me to answer e-mails from our company’s contact form. I don’t mind doing it, but I have to be very exact and very polite. If someone asks me “why’d you get rid of This Product? It was awesome! The new version sucks major balls!” I can’t say something like “because you either progress forward or you fall behind, asshat.” I can be a little passive-aggressive by writing a slightly-condescending e-mail back to the customer, but in the end I have to toe the company line.

Words have a lot of power, and companies depend upon their employees to use the right ones — adhering to the product description, talking to clients and customers, and remaining consistent with documentation are only a few of the reasons. But here’s three big ones:

Kleenex.

Xerox.

Band-Aid.

“Venti” is getting close — Starbucks has been insisting long enough on their employees using the right terms that regular Starbucks customers are starting to say “tall” when they mean “small” and so on. I did it last night when I stopped off for a tall espresso truffle, decaf, no whip. I didn’t even think about it; I just did it.

The power of the right word.

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the febreze strategy February 20, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Inexplicable Memos From Above, Management.
2 comments

I’m sure you’ve seen a Febreze commercial (or even used the stuff yourself). Basically, what they’re saying is “instead of doing actual cleaning, you can just spray this stuff and it’ll smell clean and get marginally less dirty”.*

Well, the Febreze strategy is also used by management whenever something unpleasant happens and it’s management’s job to put a brave face** on it and make it seem like it’s actually a good thing.

Witness this e-mail that showed up a few weeks ago, shortly after my department’s staff number was cut by 50%. (The 50% no longer in the department were not downsized; they were transferred to another department. They still have jobs, just not working for my boss, even though they’re still paid out of my department’s budget. Funny how that works.)

The changeover is complete. From this point forward, your primary scheduling contact will be Adrianna. I’d still like to know if you’re not going to be here since we’re all still working on the products together, if you don’t mind. Brianna has asked that I continue working directly with you as we all grow our products.

And on a personal note, it has been my honor to serve as your leader for the past few years and I hope you enjoyed working on our team just as much as I did. I look forward to continue working with you in this new direction and I wish you both the greatest success.

Let’s address this, paragraph by paragraph.

The Technical Details: Since my boss is still technically paying these employees, he wants to maintain some sort of oversight over what they do. Actually, for the most part, they’re still doing the same thing, just for a new boss. One person, though, is actually rolling out two new products for the new department, one of which has tested extremely well in focus groups. So good for him.

The Brave Face: Perhaps my boss didn’t want to write what he was really thinking…

  • And on a personal note — see this shovel in my hand? And that big pile of BS? Make some room on your desk, because it’s heading your way.
  • it has been my honor to serve as your leader for the past few years — you stuck around when a bunch of other people quit, and continued to take on more and more responsibilities with less time to do them in, especially in an industry that’s kind of falling apart at the moment. I appreciate you doing that so I could have something good to talk about on occasion when I talk to the Big Boss.
  • I hope you enjoyed working on our team just as much as I did — because at some point I’m going to use you as a reference, and I don’t want to burn any bridges***.
  • I look forward to continue working with you in this new direction — I’m sure I’ll have to help you on a project at some point, because your department (actually, every department) trumps mine. Might as well make it seem like I have some spare time for you.
  • I wish you the greatest success — I think this one is genuine. My department is (okay, was, now that it’s been halved) a pretty tight-knit group. No one wants anyone in it to fail, or to lose their jobs. Plus, if these new endeavors work out, they’ll certainly help the company. It’s just frustrating to lose 50% of your staff and not be allowed to replace said staff because you’re paying them while they work for someone else.

That e-mail was sent to the entire department, to the now-gone people’s new boss, and to the Big Boss.

It’s kind of like Color War in summer camp — you’re competing against your peers and friends, but at the end of the day, you still have to hang out together even though one group kicked the crap out of the other. So you make sure to moderate your cheers of “U-G-L-Y, YOU AIN’T GOT NO ALIBI” with large doses of “2-4-6-8, WHO DO WE APPRECIATE”. As upset as my boss was at finding out that half the department was out of his hands, he still wants the company to succeed and he still wants those people to succeed. The Febreze strategy is passive-aggressiveness at its very best, and I commend my boss for pulling it off perfectly.

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* I in no way intend to besmirch the good name of Febreze, or its parent company. So don’t sue me. I don’t have any money anyway.

** “put on a brave face” was my alternate title for this post.

*** Take it from someone who’s been a manager: don’t burn your bridges, no matter how much you want to. I burned one once and now I can never use that highly-placed corporate executive as a reference ever again.

board at work February 19, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Meeting Minutes, Pictures, Seen Elsewhere, Technology Trouble.
1 comment so far

Song Chart Memes
more music charts

Blackboards, whiteboards, overhead projectors, and now smartboards… they’re all used to alleviate boredom. In the old days, it was all about drawing, but now that presentation systems (smartboards) are being used more frequently, it’s all about watching people make fools of themselves trying to get the system to work right.

You haven’t lived until you’ve watched a co-worker press the “onscreen keyboard” button on the smartboard, then stood in front of the board (that is, between the projector and the board), trying to do the smartboard keyboard dance while keeping his/her shadow out of the line of sight.

applying video game boss tips to your own job February 18, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Management, Seen Elsewhere.
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Destructoid.com has a great guide on the video game boss’s guide to success. I thought I would extend some of those tips outward to show how managers can use them in everyday life.

Call upon your creativity when it comes to attack patterns. As much as you may not like to admit it, you know that somewhere within your charred black heart is a sense of creativity. It’s what got you this far, even if you don’t like thinking of it in quite those terms (“insidious plans” is the way you refer to it, I believe). However, all of those innovative juices of yours will be in vain if you don’t take a moment to plan such essential tactics as your plan of attack.

Real-life example: After one month, your employees will have figured out your general schedule. Shake things up by coming in a couple of minutes early, or by moving a meeting from the afternoon to the morning. Also, they’ll know by the first week how you butter them up to get them to take on a crappy task that you don’t feel like doing. Assign it via e-mail so they can’t pull the old “oh, hi Jeff, I’m just working on this other thing here. Want to see my progress so far?”

Consider that the traps in your lair may pose a threat to you as well. Any great villain knows of the legendary Bowser, king of all Koopas, who continues to chase Mario and Peach in every Mario title despite the fact he fell into his own moat of flame in the original Super Mario Bros. Sure, he’s a legend … but a smarter guy might have designed that axe that drops the bridge to be slightly less easy to access, no?

Real-life example: With the exception of people who are really into technology, managers tend to be pretty slow on the uptake when it comes to the proper way to use social networks. If you say “I’m going to a lunch meeting” but you’re really going to have a nooner with your significant other (or, worse, hookup buddy), don’t advertise it on Facebook and don’t post photos. Your employees are watching.

For bosses of unusual size: do not build platforms that allow direct access to your face. Although it seems clear as day to me, bosses of unusually large stature seem unphased by the fact that their greatest strength is also their greatest weakness: when you fall, you fall hard. Of course, planning not to fall at all seems like a fine solution, and while the attitude is there, the follow-through on this plan is sadly lacking.

Real-life example: This one is really more directed toward upper management. Basically, don’t give the peons a chance to get at you. While acting like Caesar moving among the plebes seems to make people think you’re a boss who really cares, you can really screw things up by getting caught up in discussions with the people on the ground. You may feel like you need to justify corporate decisions or empathize with your workers. Well, don’t. Let middle management fall down that rabbit hole.

Don’t situate your lair next to a room full of weapons, health packs and save points. Perhaps under your public mask of eternal evil, you truly believe that a fight should be on equal footing. That’s lovely and sure to earn you the respect of a blushing lass or two, but in all honesty it’s an absolutely terrible quality for a villain to have. After all, don’t you spend a great deal of time laughing uproariously about how anyone that challenges you has no chance to conquer you?

Real-life example: You’re the boss. You have peons for a reason. Use them. Just because you can do that boring, tedious task doesn’t mean you should. Unless everyone else is sick, use your resources. That’s what you hired them for.

For the love of God, cover your glowing red spot! Okay. I know most bosses seem to have this problem, and I want to be sensitive to your disability, so please bear with me on this one. I know there’s nothing you can do about the glowing red spot — it’s kind of big, and the whole red glowing thing is somewhat hard to conceal.

Real-life example: A manager isn’t expected to know how to do everything, and shouldn’t be. First of all, if you are, then you’re not really a manager. You’re just a glorified peon. However, the Big Boss is going to come down on you when things go wrong, and it’s going to be up to you to find the right person on your team to solve the problem. If that means waking someone up at 3am, then so be it. That’s what you’re paying them for. Besides, the big boss woke you up at 3am; might as well spread the wealth.

Ignore these tips for video game bosses at your peril; there’s always going to be some scrappy youngster with a lot of cut-scenes aiming for your glowing red spot, and the last thing you need to do is make it easy to get knocked off.

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PS: This was post #150. And there was much rejoicing.

yet more arbitrary things to measure your performance February 17, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Experiences, Sales Floor Stories.
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Look very carefully at the comic below. (click here to see a larger version)

Penny Arcade, 7/25/05

Penny Arcade, 7/25/05

See the sign on the store counter? It says:

Preorder something or get the fuck out of the store

You’ve probably noticed by now that your company has come up with more and more arbitrary ways to measure your performance. They usually do this by forcing you to do work that’s:

  • not in your job description
  • takes more time to complete than your actual assigned work
  • used to be done by someone who’s since been downsized
  • mostly a waste of your time
  • in the end reflects poorly upon you because you haven’t been trained to do it properly

In my college days, I worked at a video game store in a mall. It was a retail job, and I enjoyed it because it dealt with things I liked — video games. But shortly after I was hired, I realized that I wasn’t being judged on things like “customer satisfaction”, “good customer service”, or even “how much money is taken in by transactions with your employee number on them”. No, I was judged by these four items:

  1. Pre-ordered items per day. Despite what the customer actually came into the store to buy, it was our job to get them to commit to an item via pre-order, so we had to figure out what sorts of things were coming out soon that the customer might be willing to drop $10 on.
  2. Call list entries per day. If we couldn’t get them to pre-order, we had to at least put them on a call list so we could call them when the game came out. Toward the end of the day, I often stopped selling pre-orders so I could put people on my call list.
  3. Service plans. This happens at almost every store — service plans are almost 100% profit. But at our store, it was very difficult to sell them mostly because people didn’t come to our store to buy systems; they came to buy games. You can’t sell a service plan on a game.
  4. MSTs — multi-SKU transactions. A transaction didn’t count unless you sold the customer more than one item at a time. Very difficult to do when the majority of your customers are middle- and high-school kids who save up enough money to buy one game and that’s it.

The really tough part is that middle management knows exactly what’s happening with these arbitrary forms of performance measurement: if an employee does too good, then the company has no reason not to give a bigger raise when it’s review time. But by implementing something measurable and unattainable, it’s easy to say “you got a lot of great comments from customers, but your MSTs and pre-orders were pretty low, which detracted from your overall score”.

So which is more important to companies? Happy customers, or employees who can excel at arbitrary forms of performance measurement? Customers aren’t stupid; they know when employees are trying to keep them on the hook to get them to buy more things. They know extended service plans are pure profit and aren’t worth the money. Employees get upset and give worse service because they know they’re not going to get a passing grade in service plans or MSTs or pre-orders, and customers are unhappy when they get bad service.

Companies need to take heed: in this economy, keeping customers happy is more important than anything else. There’s less money to spend, and you really don’t want the competition getting money that you could’ve gotten but lost out on because your employees were forced to sell something they know the customers don’t need.

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you’re doing things wrong February 16, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Management.
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As a manager you’re paid to be uncomfortable. If you’re comfortable, it’s a sure sign you’re doing things wrong.

Peter Drucker

Perhaps this explains why I disliked being a manager so much. I never wanted things to be difficult. I preferred to have things go right all the time.

I’d ask “who doesn’t?”, but as you’ve learned by reading this blog, some people delight in making things difficult.